Understanding Cyber Harassment, a Punishable Crime in New Jersey
Bullying has been around since the term bully was coined as far back as the 1530’s. It is oftentimes subtle, but can be very physically violent. Once the internet was discovered, bullying occurred “online” and that behavior is known as cyber bullying or cyber harassment.
What is Cyber bullying or Cyber Harassment?A frequently used definition of cyber bullying or cyber harassment is an aggressive, intentional act or behavior that is carried out by a group or an individual, using electronic forms of contact, repeatedly and over time against a victim who cannot easily defend him or herself. It knows no colors, boundaries, religion, sexual orientation or preference.
Victims of cyber bullying or harassment may not know the identity of their bully. The bullying or harassment can have wide-reaching effects on the victim, as the content used to harass the victim can be spread and shared easily among many people and often remains accessible long after the initial incident. The incidents can continue daily for days and month and sometimes years, seemingly without stopping. It is meant to annoy, harass and embarrass its victim. There have been suicides as a result of cyber harassment and/or bullying because the victim feels useless to defend themselves.
In New Jersey, cyber harassment is a crime punishable by law. NJ Rev Stat § 2C:33-4.1 (2014).
To understand whether or not a crime of cyber harassment has occurred, a breakdown of the statute is helpful:
A person commits the crime of cyber-harassment if,
• while making a communication (email, text, voice message, postings)
• in an online capacity (internet, text transfers)
• via any electronic device (cell phone, computer, tablet)
• or through a social networking site; and (facebook, instagram, social media, chat rooms)
• with the purpose to harass another, the person: (must have intent)
(1) threatens to inflict injury or physical harm to any person or the property of any person;
(2) knowingly sends, posts, comments, requests, suggests, or proposes any lewd, indecent, or obscene material to or about a person with the intent to emotionally harm a reasonable person or place a reasonable person in fear of physical or emotional harm to his person; or
(3) threatens to commit any crime against the person or the person's property.
Examples of cyber harassment include posting abusive, harassing or threatening messages on a social media platform or via text or emails, sending or posting provocative (sexually explicit, naked) photographs of an individual, individuals or groups, sending threatening, abusive, hostile, sexually explicit text messages to a victim or to others about the victim. Cyber harassment communications can be comments/postings made in chat rooms, sending offensive or cruel e-mails or text messages, postings on blogs or social networking sites.
Cyber Harassment is a Crime Punishable in New Jerseyb. Cyber-harassment is a crime of the fourth degree, unless the person is 21 years of age or older at the time of the offense and impersonates a minor for the purpose of cyber-harassing a minor, in which case it is a crime of the third degree.
Penalties are typically at the discretion of the judge and range from fines to prison terms. The penalty may include a fine of up to $10,000, up to 18 months in prison, or both. The charge increases to a crime of the third degree if the cyberbully was 21 years old or older at the time of the offense and impersonated a minor for the purpose of the cyber harassment. Penalties for this offense may include a fine of up to $15,000, between three and five years in prison, or both.
c. If a minor under the age of 16 is adjudicated delinquent for cyber-harassment, the court may order as a condition of the sentence that the minor, accompanied by a parent or guardian, complete, in a satisfactory manner, one or both of the following:
(1) a class or training program intended to reduce the tendency toward cyber-harassment behavior; or
(2) a class or training program intended to bring awareness to the dangers associated with cyber-harassment.
Is it fair to have the parent and/or guardian complete the punishment? How is jurisdiction imposed upon the parent/guardian who did not commit the offense? Maybe subsection (d) solves these questions:
d. A parent or guardian who fails to comply with a condition imposed by the court pursuant to subsection c. of this section is a disorderly person and shall be fined not more than $25 for a first offense and not more than $100 for each subsequent offense.